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A Student Grammar of French

A Student Grammar of French is a concise introduction to French grammar, designed speci¬cally for
English-speaking undergraduates. Keeping technical detail to a minimum, it explains the
fundamentals of the grammar in accessible and simple terms, and helps students to put their
learning into practice through a range of fun and engaging exercises. All the essential topics are
covered, with chapters on verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, determiners, prepositions, adverbs,
negation, numerals, sentences and clauses. Every grammatical point is illustrated with a range
of authentic examples drawn from magazines and newspapers, covering many areas of
contemporary life such as fashion, health issues, relationships and sport. It is clearly organised
into a user-friendly, numbered indexing system, allowing the learner to locate any grammatical
topic quickly and easily.
Functioning as both an indispensable reference guide and a comprehensive workbook, this
grammar will become the perfect accompaniment to any ¬rst- or second-year undergraduate

Malcolm Offord was formerly Lecturer and Reader in the Department of French, University of
Nottingham. He is author of Varieties of French (1990), French Sociolinguistics (1996), French Words, Past,
Present and Future (2001), Francophone Literatures: A Literary and Linguistic Companion (2001), Using French:
A Guide to Contemporary Usage (with Ronald Batchelor, Cambridge University Press, 3rd edition
2000) and Using French Synonyms (with Ronald Batchelor, Cambridge University Press, 1993).
A Student Grammar
of French
cambridge university press
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge cb2 2ru, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521547628

© Malcolm Offord 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2006

isbn-13 978-0-511-22025-8 eBook (EBL)
isbn-10 0-511-22025-1 eBook (EBL)

isbn-13 978-0-521-54762-8 paperback
isbn-10 0-521-54762-8 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Acknowledgements page xix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Verbs: 1 4
1 Introduction 4
2 Verbs 4
3 Treatment of verbs 4
Discursive treatment of verbs 5
In¬nitives 5
4 In¬nitives 5
Person 5
5 Person 5
Mood 5
6 Mood 5
Tense 6
7 Tense 6
8 Tenses 6
9 Presentation of tenses 7
10 In¬nitives and conjugations 7
11 In¬nitive endings for the four groups 7
12 Subgroups 7
13 Group 1 “er verbs, Group 2 “ir verbs, Group 3 “re verbs, Group 4 “oir
verbs 8
14 The formation of tenses “ simple and compound tenses 8
Indicative mood 9
Present tense 9
15 Group 1 “er verbs 9
16 Present tense of Group 1 “er verbs 9
17 Subgroups 9
18 “er verbs Subgroup 1 9
19 “er verbs Subgroup 2 10
20 “er verbs Subgroup 3 10
21 “er verbs Subgroup 4 10
22 Group 2 “ir verbs 11
23 Present tense of Group 2 “ir verbs 11
24 “ir verbs Subgroup 1 11
25 “ir verbs Subgroup 2 11
26 “ir verbs Subgroup 3 12
27 “ir verbs Subgroup 4 12
28 “ir verb mourir = to die 12


29 Group 3 “re verbs 12
30 Present tense of Group 3 “re verbs 12
31 “re verbs Subgroup 1 12
32 “re verbs Subgroup 2 13
33 “re verbs Subgroup 3 13
34 “re verbs Subgroup 4 14
35 “re verbs Subgroup 5 14
36 “re verbs Subgroup 6 14
37 “re verbs Subgroup 7 14
38 Group 4 “oir verbs 15
39 Present tense of Group 4 “oir verbs 15
40 “oir verbs Subgroup 1 15
41 “oir verbs Subgroup 2 15
42 “oir verbs Subgroup 3 15
Imperfect tense 16
43 Using and forming the imperfect tense 16
44 Examples of the imperfect tense Groups 1“4 17
Future and conditional tenses 18
45 Using the future and conditional tenses 18
46 Endings of future and conditional tenses 18
47 Examples of future and conditional tenses of Group 1 “er verbs 19
48 Stem changes of Group 1 “er verbs 19
49 Group 1 “er verbs with radical stem variation 20
50 Examples of future and conditional tenses of Group 2 “ir verbs 21
51 “ir verbs Subgroup 3 21
52 Group 2 “ir verbs with radical stem variation 21
53 Future and conditional tenses of Group 3 “re verbs 22
54 The exceptions etre and faire 22
55 Future and conditional tenses of Group 4 “oir verbs 22
Participles 23
56 Present participles 23
57 Exceptions 24
58 Past participles 24
59 Formation of past participles Groups 1“3 24
60 Group 3 “re verbs with distinctive past participles 25
61 Past participles of Group 4 “oir verbs 25
Compound tenses 25
62 General comments 25
63 avoir or etre? 25
64 Verbs conjugated with etre and agreement 26
65 Verbs which may be conjugated with either avoir or etre 27
Perfect tense 27
66 Formation 27
67 Perfect tense of Group 1“4 verbs 27
Pluperfect tense 29
68 Formation 29
69 Pluperfect tense of Group 1“4 verbs 29
Future perfect tense 30


70 Formation 30
71 Future perfect tense of Group 1“4 verbs 30
Conditional perfect tense 31
72 Formation 31
73 Conditional perfect tense of Group 1“4 verbs 31
Past historic tense 32
74 Past historic 32
75 Past historic tense of Group 1 “er verbs 33
76 Examples of Group 1 “er verbs 33
77 Past historic tense of Group 2 “ir verbs 33
78 Examples of Group 2 “ir verbs 33
79 “ir verbs Subgroup 4 34
80 “ir verbs exceptions to Subgroup 2 and mourir 34
81 Past historic tense of Group 3 “re verbs 34
82 Group 3 “re verbs with past historic endings in “i“ 34
83 Group 3 “re verbs with stem variation 35
84 Group 3 “re verbs with past historic endings in “u“ 35
85 Past historic tense of Group 4 “oir verbs 36
86 Group 4 “oir verbs with past historic endings in “i“ 36
87 Group 4 “oir verbs with past historic endings in “u“ 36
Past anterior tense 37
88 General comments 37
89 Formation 37
90 Examples of Group 1“4 verbs 37
Subjunctive mood 38
Present subjunctive tense 38
91 Formation 38
92 Group 1 examples of the present subjunctive 38
93 Group 1 verb which diverges from the normal pattern “ aller 39
94 Group 2 examples of the present subjunctive 39
95 Group 3 examples of the present subjunctive 39
96 Group 3 verbs which diverge from the normal pattern 40
97 Group 4 examples of the present subjunctive 40
98 Group 4 verbs which diverge from the normal pattern 40
Imperfect subjunctive tense 41
99 Formation and usage 41
100 Examples of the imperfect subjunctive 41
Perfect and pluperfect subjunctive tenses 42
101 Formation 42
102 Examples of Group 1“4 verbs 42
Pronominal verbs 43
103 Pronominal verbs 43
104 Compound tenses 43
105 Agreement of past participles 44
106 The variable values of re¬‚exive pronouns “ how to interpret the
pronouns 44
107 Occasional dif¬culty in deciding whether the pronoun is direct or
indirect object 46


108 The agreement in compound tenses of pronominal verbs with
direct objects and those with indirect objects 47
109 Verbs that are always pronominal and those that are
sometimes pronominal 47
Voice 48
110 Active and passive voice 48
111 Restrictions on conversion from active to passive voice 48
112 Formation of the passive voice 48
113 Examples of the passive voice 49
114 Avoiding and using the passive voice 49
Exercises 50

Chapter 2 Verbs: 2 53
Using verbs 53
Mood 53
The imperative mood 53
115 The imperative 53
116 The restricted forms of the imperative 53
117 The forms of the imperative 53
118 Forming the imperative 53
119 Exceptions 54
120 Forming the imperative of pronominal verbs 54
121 Meaning of the imperative 55
122 Alternatives to the imperative 55
123 The imperative combined with object pronouns 56
Indicative and subjunctive moods 56
124 The indicative and subjunctive moods and tenses 56
Present tense 56
125 Uses “ 1: present moment; 2: habitual time; 3: universal time 56
126 4: marking continuous time 57
127 Other uses of the present tense “ 5: future; 6: past 57
Past tenses 58
128 Past tenses 58
Imperfect tense 58
129 Uses “ 1: duration; 2: interrupted time; 3: description;
4: repeated action 58
Past historic tense 59
130 Uses 59
Perfect tense 60
131 Uses “ 1: past affecting present; 2: past divorced from present 60
Pluperfect tense 61
132 Uses 61
Past anterior tense 61
133 Uses 61
Double compound past tense 62
134 Uses 62
Future tense 62
135 Uses “ 1: future; 2: attenuation of imperative 62


136 Other ways of referring to the future 63
Future perfect tense 63
137 Use 63
Conditional tense 63
138 Uses “ 1: conveying future in reported speech; 2: as corollary of
conditional clause; 3: conjecture 63
Conditional perfect tense 64
139 Uses “ 1: conveying future perfect in reported speech; 2: hypothesis;
3: conjecture 64
140 Differences in tense usage in French and English 65
141 Differences between French and English use of tenses “ 1: sequence
of tenses 65
142 Differences between French and English use of tenses “ 2: depuis,
il y a 66
143 Differences between French and English use of tenses “ 3: venir de 67
Subjunctive mood 68
144 When to use the subjunctive 68
145 Use of tenses in the subjunctive 68
146 Sequence of tenses in the subjunctive 68
147 Illustration of the sequence of tenses in the subjunctive 68
Grammatical circumstances requiring the subjunctive 69
148 In clauses introduced by a conjunctive expression 69
149 In clauses depending upon a verb or expression conveying an emotion 73
150 In clauses depending upon a verb or expression conveying avoiding,
chance, denial, evaluation, forbidding, (im)possibility, improbability,
necessity, uncertainty 75
151 In relative clauses depending upon a superlative formed with plus
or moins 78
152 In noun clauses introduced by le fait que or que alone 78
153 In clauses depending upon a range of inde¬nite expressions, equivalent
to words in “ever “ pronouns whoever, whatever, adjective whatever, adverbs
however, wherever 78
Grammatical circumstances where the subjunctive may be used 80
154 Optional subjunctive 80
155 In clauses depending upon a superlative not formed with plus or
moins and upon such expressions as dernier, premier, seul 81
156 Other situations where the subjunctive is optional 81
157 Use with apr` s que
e 82
158 Pluperfect subjunctive equivalent to conditional perfect 82
Modal verbs 83
159 De¬nition of a modal verb 83
160 devoir 83
161 pouvoir 84
162 savoir 87
163 vouloir 87
Impersonal verbs 88
164 Impersonal verbs 88
Defective verbs 89


165 Defective verbs 89
Exercises 90

Chapter 3 Tabular treament of verbs 92
166 Order of presentation 92
Indicative mood 93
Group 1 “er verbs 93
167 Group 1 “er verbs 93
Group 2 “ir verbs 96
168 Group 2 “ir verbs 96
Group 3 “re verbs 98
169 Group 3 “re verbs 98
Group 4 “oir verbs 103
170 Group 4 “oir verbs 103
Subjunctive mood 106
Group 1 “er verbs 106
171 Group 1 “er verbs 106
Group 2 “ir verbs 109
172 Group 2 “ir verbs 109
Group 3 “re verbs 111
173 Group 3 “re verbs 111
Group 4 “oir verbs 115
174 Group 4 “oir verbs 115
Exercises 117

Chapter 4 Verb list 119
175 Using the list 119
176 The list 119

Chapter 5 Nouns and adjectives 129
Nouns 129
177 Nouns 129
Gender 130
178 Gender 130
179 Assigning gender 130
180 Patterns for masculine gender 131
181 Patterns for feminine gender 133
182 Awkward cases of gender identity 134
183 Names of countries, towns and rivers 135
184 Homonyms 136
185 Nouns requiring special attention 138
186 Nouns designating people and animals 138
187 Gender of compound nouns 139
Number 141
188 Count and mass nouns 141
189 Markers for forming the plural of nouns 142
190 Plural of compound nouns 144
191 Different usages of number in French and English 145


192 Contrast between singular and plural usage in French 146
Adjectives 146
193 Adjectives 146
194 Adjectives and gender 146
195 Adjectives with a variable masculine form 149
196 Adjectives and number 149
197 Adjectives and agreement 150
198 Agreement of certain prepositional and adverbial expressions involving
past participles 151
199 Comparison of adjectives “ comparative and superlative forms “
1: comparative and superlative of inequality; 2: comparative of equality 152
200 Use of ne / le in clauses following a comparative 153
201 The more the merrier 153
202 The position of adjectives 153
203 Adjectives which change their meaning according to their position 155
204 Adjectives that may occur before or after the noun without
change of meaning 157
205 Multiple adjectives 157
Exercises 158

Chapter 6 Pronouns 161
206 Pronouns 161
Personal pronouns 161
207 Personal pronouns 161
208 The forms 162
209 Elision of certain pronouns 163
210 Position of pronouns “ 1: subject pronouns; 2: object pronouns 163
211 Order of object pronouns 164
212 Order of pronouns with the imperative 165
213 Position of pronouns with an in¬nitive and the presentatives voici
and voila 166
214 Agreement of past participles with a preceding direct object 167
215 First person personal pronouns 167
216 Second person personal pronouns 168
217 Third person personal pronouns 169
218 Different usages in French and English 170
219 ce and il with reference to persons 170
220 Neuter subject pronouns 171
221 ce or il? 1 “ 1: when followed by an adjective; 2: followed by
adjective + in¬nitive; 3: followed by adjective + clause; 171
222 Distinguishing il and ce: 2 173
223 The use of c™est to highlight a section of an utterance 174
224 Use of on 174
225 Agreement of adjectives and past participles with on 176
226 on and its other forms 176
227 Personal pronouns “ object 177
228 The various values of the re¬‚exive pronouns me, te, se, nous, vous 178
229 le referring to a previously expressed concept 179


230 Dealing with the anticipatory it of English 179
231 Stressed personal pronouns: 1 180
232 Stressed personal pronouns: 2 181
233 Stressed personal pronouns: 3 182
234 en and y 182
235 en 182
236 y 184
Demonstrative pronouns 185
237 Demonstrative pronouns 185
238 Examples of demonstrative pronouns 186
239 The neuter demonstrative pronouns ceci, cela, ca
¸ 187
Possessive pronouns 188
240 Possessive pronouns 188
241 Examples of possessive pronouns 188
Quantifying and inde¬nite pronouns 189
242 Quantifying pronouns 189
243 Examples of quantifying pronouns 189
244 la plupart 190
245 Inde¬nite pronouns and related expressions 190
246 Examples of inde¬nite expressions 191
Exercises 191

Chapter 7 Determiners 195
247 Determiners 195
The articles 195
248 The three articles 195
249 Forms of the three articles 196
250 Position of the articles 197
251 Differences between French and English usages of the articles “ article
in French where none is used in English: 1 198
252 Article in French where none is used in English: 2 199
253 Article in French where none is used in English: 3 199
254 Differences between French and English usages of the articles “ no
article in French where there is one in English 200
255 Differences between French and English usages of the articles “ a
different article in French from English 201
256 Differences between French and English usages of the articles “ usage
with titles 203
257 Differences between French and English usages of the articles “
lists of nouns 203
258 Zero article 204
259 When des becomes de 206
260 More de “ use of inde¬nite and partitive articles with a
negative expression 208
261 Repetition of article 208
262 Which article? 208
263 La nouvelle Ath` nes e 209


264 Key 209
Demonstrative determiners 210
265 Demonstrative determiners “ demonstrative adjectives “ the forms 210
266 Examples of demonstrative adjectives 211
Possessive determiners 212
267 Possessive determiners “ possessive adjectives 212
268 The son series 213
269 Possible ambiguity of meaning of son series 214
270 votre /vos 215
271 Examples of the other persons of the possessive adjectives 215
Inde¬nite determiners 217
272 Inde¬nite determiners “ chaque, tout 217
Exercises 218

Chapter 8 Prepositions 221
273 Prepositions 221
274 French prepositions 221
Prepositions which link 221
275 Prepositions which link 221
276 Zero preposition 222
277 Examples of verb + zero preposition 222
278 faire, entendre, envoyer, laisser, regarder, sentir, voir 223
a 224
279 a linking an adjective to a following in¬nitive 224
280 Examples of a linking an adjective to a following in¬nitive 224
281 a linking a noun to a following in¬nitive 225
282 Examples of a linking a noun to a following in¬nitive 225
283 a linking a verb to a following in¬nitive 225
284 Examples of a linking a verb to a following in¬nitive 226
285 contraindre, forcer, obliger 227
286 a linking a verb to a noun 227
287 Examples of a linking a verb to a noun 228
de 228
288 de linking an adjective to a following in¬nitive 228
289 Examples of de linking an adjective to a following in¬nitive 229
290 de linking a noun to a following in¬nitive 229
291 Examples of de linking a noun to a following in¬nitive 229
292 de linking a verb to a following in¬nitive 230
293 Examples of de linking a verb to a following in¬nitive 231
294 de linking a verb to a noun 231
295 Examples of de linking a verb to a noun 232
296 Verbs with direct object and de with a second noun 232
297 Examples of verbs with direct object and de with a second noun 233
298 Verbs involving a with a noun and de with an in¬nitive 233
299 Examples of verbs involving a with a noun and de with an in¬nitive 234
300 Verbs with variable prepositional usage 234
301 Examples of verbs with variable prepositional usage 234
Prepositional expressions 242


302 Prepositional expressions 242
303 a 242
304 a indicating place 242
305 a indicating time 244
306 a indicating manner 244
307 a to mark responsibility 245
308 a expressing measurement 245
309 a expressing a compound phenomenon 245
310 a + in¬nitive 246
a cause de = because of
311 246
a condition de = subject to
312 246
a cot´ de = next to, in comparison with
` ˆe
313 246
a¬n de = in order to
314 246
a force de = by virtue of
315 247
a moins de = unless
316 247
a partir de = from
317 247
apr` s /d™apr` s = after, according to, from
318 e e 247
a travers = through
319 248
au bout de = at the end of
320 248
au cours de = during, in the course of
321 248
au-dela de = beyond, apart from
322 248
au-dessous de = underneath, beneath, below
323 248
au-dessus de = over, above
324 248
au lieu de = instead of
325 249
aupr` s de = in relation to, in comparison with, among
326 e 249
autour de = around, round, about
327 249
avant = before (of time)
328 249
avec = with
329 249
chez = at the home of, among
330 249
compris /y compris = including
331 250
contre = against
332 250
dans = in, from, during
333 250
334 de 251
335 de indicating possession 251
336 de expressing place, origin 252
337 de expressing the idea of containing, measurement 253
338 de with expressions of quantity 253
339 de expressing function, material 254
340 de expressing time 254
341 de indicating cause 255
342 de expressing manner 255
343 de introducing the attribute of a noun or pronoun 255
344 de introducing an in¬nitive 256
345 de forming expressions 256
de crainte de /de peur de = for fear of
346 257
de facon a /de mani` re a = so as to
` e`
347 ¸ 257
depuis = since
348 257
derri` re = behind
349 e 258


350 d` s = from
e 258
351 devant = in front of, before, faced with 258
352 du cot´ de = as for
ˆe 259
353 du haut de = from the top of 259
354 durant = for, during 259
355 en 259
356 en expressing position 260
357 en expressing time 260
358 en with clothing, materials, containers 261
359 en with names of languages and countries 262
360 en in ¬xed expressions 262
361 en-dehors de = outside, apart from 264
362 en d´ pit de = in spite of
e 264
363 entre = between, among, through 264
364 envers = towards 265
365 environ = about 265
366 except´ = except for, apart from
e 265
367 face a = opposite, facing
` 265
368 grace a = thanks to
ˆ` 265
369 hors de = out of 266
370 jusqu™a = as far as, until
` 266
371 le long de = along 266
372 lors de = during, at the time of 266
373 malgr´ = in spite of
e 266
374 par = through, by, per, on, in 266
375 par-dessous = underneath 267
376 par-dessus = over 268
377 parmi = among 268
378 par suite de = as a result of 268
379 pendant = for, during 268
380 pour = for 268
381 pr` s de = close to, near
e 269
382 quant a = as for
` 269
383 sans = without 269
384 sauf = except for, apart from 270
385 selon = according to 270
386 sous = underneath, beneath 270
387 suivant = following 270
388 sur = on, over, about 270
389 vers = to, towards, about 271
390 Slight shifts in meaning brought out by varying the prepositions 272
391 Prepositional alternation 276
392 The interlocking of French and English prepositions 277
393 Prepositions with place names 278
Exercises 282

Chapter 9 Adverbs and adverbial expressions 285
394 The role of adverbs 285


395 Formation of adverbs 285
396 Meaning of adverbs 289
397 Position of adverbs 289
398 Adverbs of manner 291
399 Examples of adverbs of manner 293
400 Adverbs of place 294
401 Examples of adverbs of place 295
402 Adverbs of time 295
403 Comments on certain adverbs of time 297
404 Examples of adverbs of time 298
405 Adverbs of degree 298
406 Comments on certain adverbs of degree 299
407 Examples of adverbs of degree 300
408 assez, autant, beaucoup, bien, tant, tellement, trop 301
409 Comparative and superlative forms of adverbs 301
410 Adverbs of af¬rmation, negation and doubt 303
411 Examples of adverbs of af¬rmation, negation and doubt 304
412 Interrogative adverbs 305
413 Adverbs as connectors 305
414 Examples of connectors 306
Exercises 307

Chapter 10 Negation 309
415 Negation + verb 309
416 ne + negative particle “ ne . . . pas = not 309
417 ne alone 313
418 ne . . . personne = no one, not anyone 314
419 ne . . . rien = nothing, not anything 315
420 ne . . . aucun = no, none 317
421 ne . . . nul = no, no one 317
422 ne . . . gu` re = hardly, scarcely
e 318
423 ne . . . jamais = never 318
424 ne . . . plus = no longer, not any more 319
425 ne . . . que = only 320
426 ne . . . (pas) . . . ni . . . ni = neither . . . nor, not . . . or, not . . . either . . . or 320
427 pas alone = not 321
428 non = no, not 322
429 . . . pas non plus = neither, not . . . either, nor 322
430 Multiple negators 323
431 Omission of ne 323
Exercises 324

Chapter 11 Numerals 326
432 Cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers 326
433 Cardinal numbers 326
434 Use of et and hyphens with cardinal numbers 329
435 Pronunciation matters 330
436 When to use ¬gures to express cardinal numbers 330


437 Approximate numbers 331
438 Fractions and decimals 332
439 Ordinal numbers 333
440 Telling the time 334
441 Dates 336
442 Miscellaneous matters 337
Exercises 338

Chapter 12 Sentences and clauses 339
Sentences 339
443 Sentences 339
444 Sentence types 340
Sentence structure 341
445 Sentence structure 341
Minor sentences and major sentences 341
446 Minor sentences 341
447 Major sentences 342
448 Simple sentences 343
449 Compound sentences 343
450 Complex sentences 344
451 Compound-complex sentences 345
452 Coordinating conjunctions 345
Clauses 347
453 Clauses 347
454 Clause types 348
455 Types of subordinate clauses 349
456 Causal clauses 349
457 Concessive clauses 350
458 Conditional clauses 351
459 Consecutive clauses 353
460 Final clauses 354
461 Manner clauses 355
462 Noun clauses 355
463 Highlighting with c™est 356
464 Relative clauses 357
465 Time clauses 360
466 Declarative clauses 363
467 Word order in declarative clauses 364
468 Inversion in declarative clauses 366
469 Highlighting 368
Interrogative sentences 368
470 Interrogative sentences 368
oui “ non questions 369
471 oui “ non questions 369
472 oui “ non questions “ 1: those involving inversion of the subject
and the verb 369
473 oui “ non questions “ 2: those involving est-ce que + direct order of
the subject and verb 371


474 oui “ non questions “ 3: those involving intonation only 371
475 Elliptical oui “ non questions 372
Questions introduced by question words 372
476 Questions introduced by question words 372
477 Question words “ pronouns 373
478 Question words “ adjectives 376
479 Question words “ adverbs 376
480 Elliptical questions without a question word but suggesting one 377
481 Indirect questions 378
482 Rhetorical questions 379
Exclamative sentences 380
483 Exclamative sentences 380
Punctuation 381
484 Punctuation 381
Exercises 384

Key to exercises 387
Bibliography 406
Index 407


The following newspapers and magazines have provided and inspired the illustrative
examples used throughout this book: Bien dans ma vie, Cosmopolitan, Elle, l™Equipe, Esprit
femme, Femme actuelle, FHM, le Figaro, Glamour, Laura, Marianne, Marie Claire, Men™s Health,
Modes et travaux, le Monde, Monsieur, Optimum, Plan`te Foot, le Point, Solo, Sport et vie, T´l´rama,
e ee
Top Sant´, Triathl`te, le Vif“Express, Vingt ans, Vital, Vivre.
e e
Her name should be Patience, but it™s Judith and she has loyally and stalwartly sup-
ported me throughout the preparation of this book. Sincerest thanks to her and also to
Helen Barton at Cambridge University Press, whose valuable advice, tendered in her
gentle manner, ensured that the book didn™t become, like its author, too eccentric.


Grammar is a word that all too often strikes terror and a sense of panic into the breasts of
modern language students. Grammar presents a cold, clinical, unemotional exterior “
not exciting, straightforward and vibrant like vocabulary, especially when the latter tends
towards the informal and slang. The mortar of language (grammar) is never so interesting
as the bricks (vocabulary). Grammar is often seen as an obstacle to free expression “ it
makes you linger and dither over whether to use one preposition rather than another,
whether an agreement is required or not “ whereas you would rather press on, get your
meaning across, communicate. Anything that impedes or slows down that expression is
annoying and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible, or even ignored. But bricks
without mortar are ugly and lack style, are in danger of collapsing and not ful¬lling the
purpose for which they were erected in the ¬rst place. What can we do about it?
First of all, there™s no avoiding it “ we need a grammar book. It™s no good sticking
your head in the sand “ mortar is essential, the right consistency, the right thickness for
maximum effect and to perform its job ef¬ciently and discreetly. Secondly, we need a
grammar book that is easy to use, that helps us identify our problems, that has a very clear
and easily accessible index, that guides us to the right solution for us and explains what
we need to know, expressed in language we can understand. Thirdly, when we get to the
point where the explanation is, we need illustrations that are drawn from the world we live
in “ not taken from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not taken from the greatest
authors, whose French we cannot ever hope to emulate; not boring examples that have
been concocted to illustrate the point but don™t connect with our world. We need examples
that make us want to read on, that entertain us, that make us smile, that might even inform
us on issues that are of interest to us, that make us look seriously at the way in which they
are expressed “ because they™re cool. We don™t want fuddy-duddy examples about the
price of oranges (at least not too many), about who will bring the suitcases down, about
(not) doing your homework, examples that suck. We want real, living examples “ examples
that are authentic, that express our reality “ about relationships, sport, contemporary
entertainment, fashion, social behaviour, weight-control and “ another word that strikes
terror into the breast of students, but not just the breast of students, it must be said “
sex, and related matters: in short about daily living in the twenty-¬rst century. Fourthly,
we need a means of making sure that we have assimilated the grammatical points being
This Student Grammar of French is aimed at meeting all those needs. It is conceived in such a
way that no section is overwhelmingly long, that excessively technical language is avoided,
that the index is straightforward and contains references to all the points contained in
the book, and that the illustrative examples are worth a read in their own right and may
inspire you to imitate their phraseology as well as take note of the grammatical point
being illustrated. Since the vocabulary used in the examples is completely up-to-date, it™s
worth learning the contemporary words as well as noting how the examples work. It has
to be admitted that some of the translations have been held back from being completely
free, and thus more typically English, in order to allow the grammatical point under


consideration to be seized more clearly “ a more ¬‚uent translation might obscure the
grammatical point.
A simple but effective way of helping to ensure that the grammatical point is understood
and is becoming part of your personal grammatical apparatus is to test yourself with
the exercises provided at the end of each chapter, exercises that use similar material
to that contained in the examples in the text itself. These exercises are designed to
consolidate your grammatical knowledge and perhaps increase your sociological and
cultural awareness.
Mortar can be fun and the result of using it effectively and skilfully very satisfying “
ask a bricklayer!
This grammar book has been designed according to the following plan. The ¬rst four
chapters are devoted to verbs “ verbs are absolutely essential to self-expression, they are
the motors of speech; consequently it seems logical to place examination of them at the
beginning of the book. The ¬rst chapter provides the forms that need to be acquired
in order to be able to manipulate the verbs effectively. The second chapter shows how
the verbs are used, especially the different tenses, and the third chapter introduces a
large number of tables giving the full conjugations of the major verb groups, followed in
the next chapter by a list of verbs that do not belong to the ¬rst, most common group
of verbs (those ending in “er), and showing how these verbs relate to verbs illustrated
previously. The ¬fth chapter deals with nouns and adjectives and concentrates upon the
themes of gender and number (how to form plurals in particular). The sixth chapter
examines the area of pronouns “ personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, possessive
pronouns and inde¬nite and quantifying pronouns. The next chapter examines the tricky
area of determiners “ the de¬nite, inde¬nite, partitive and zero (what?!) articles, and
demonstrative and possessive adjectives. Even more tricky is the topic of prepositions and
these are fully treated in chapter 8 “ though they are often extremely small words and you
often glide over them without thinking about them, prepositions as linking words have a
very important role to play in the unrolling of speech; this is a long chapter which attempts
to cover all those environments where prepositions occur. The ninth chapter is devoted
to adverbs and adverbial expressions “ these lend more detail and precision to our speech
and require skilful handling. Everything has been positive up to this stage “ with the tenth
chapter we enter the realm of negation, how to deny, refuse, cancel “ very important in
an age where science and technology are creating products which replace and supersede
previously current products. The next chapter, the shortest, looks at numerals, which the
speaker needs to be able to handle accurately “ otherwise misunderstandings and more
serious problems may ensue. The last chapter on sentences and clauses shows how all that
has been learnt and hopefully assimilated in earlier chapters builds up into sophisticated
language, making communication exciting, rewarding and challenging. The purpose of
this chapter “ and indeed of the book as a whole “ is to allow us to express our thoughts,
hopes and ideals in appropriate, well-formed, clear sentences, showing us to be intelligent
and valuable members of society.
Just as there are many varieties of English, of which you are no doubt fully aware,
so there are many varieties of French. Some are geographically based “ the French of
Paris differs in some ways from the French of the north-east of the country and from that
of the south-west, and more so from the French of Belgium, Canada and francophone
Africa. Others are based on age “ youth-speak and wrinkly-speak differ considerably “
still others on gender “ males and females have different speech habits from time to time.
However, the most important area of variety is that of formality “ we speak formally, very


formally, in certain circumstances, much less so in others. This grammar book takes as its
basis the variety of French that oscillates between standard French “ the French used for
news broadcasts and in good-quality newspapers and magazines “ and the upper end of
informal French “ that is to say French that is dynamic, fairly but not excessively relaxed,
used amongst reasonably well-educated speakers, and at the cutting edge of linguistic
development. The book avoids on the one hand the more starchy realms of literary, highly
intellectual French, and on the other the cruder, often-grammar-disregarding depths of
slang and vulgar French. The variety selected is one which is current among educated
French-speakers, one with which it is hoped you will feel comfortable and which will
serve your needs in an appropriate way.

Chapter 1 Verbs: 1

1 Introduction
In this ¬rst chapter, devoted to verbs, we examine the ways in which verbs are formed
in French and the factors that have to be borne in mind when we are considering our
choice of form.
The forms are chosen according to the role that the verbs play as they ¬t into sentences.
We shall see that the form has to be adjusted according to who or what is the subject
of the verb (known as the person), the time when the event or state indicated by the
meaning of the verb occurs (the tense) and the syntactic circumstances in which the verb
To provide us with some technical terminology and a general framework in which to
work, the following questions are answered “ what is a verb? (see 2), what do the terms
in¬nitive (see 4), mood (see 6), person (see 5), tense (see 7) mean?

2 Verbs
The verb is often the pivotal element of a sentence. Indeed mention of a verb is regularly
included in the de¬nition of a sentence or clause “ but see 445, 449. The typical purpose
of a verb is to indicate how a state, action or process takes place during time and to
provide information about it.

3 Treatment of verbs
Verbs are so vital to communication “ they provide information especially about the
subject (whether it is a question of singular or plural, ¬rst, second or third person), about
the time when the speech-event takes place (past, present, future) “ that they need to be
given extensive treatment.
The verbs are discussed from three perspectives “

1 a discursive treatment, showing how verbs may be grouped together and the
relations that exist between them: see 4“165;
2 a tabular treatment showing how individual verbs and their derivatives (related verbs)
are conjugated “ that is how the verbs™ endings are adjusted or how other
modi¬cations are made to the verbs in order to indicate their role in sentences: see
3 a list of verbs, provided after the tabular treatment “ this contains 1: the verbs
discussed in the two preceding groupings; and 2: the most frequently encountered
verbs not discussed in those sections “ see 175“176; it does not include what are
known as perfectly regular verbs ending in “er “ see 15.

6 Mood



4 In¬nitives
When we learn a new verb, we usually learn it in the in¬nitive form. This form is the
one dictionaries use to record verbs: the dictionary uses the in¬nitive as the headword
for the verb.
An in¬nitive consists of two parts, the stem, which tells us the meaning of the verb,
and the ending “ see 11.
When a verb is conjugated, the stem remains more or less constant, but the ending
varies according to how it is used in the sentence, depending upon the person it refers to,
the time the event takes place and the syntactic circumstances involved. The expression
˜syntactic circumstances™ refers to whether the verb occurs in a main or a subordinate
clause and what type of conjunction introduces the subordinate clause. These matters
are discussed in 10, 11, 115“165.
In¬nitives are discussed in more detail in 10 and 11.


5 Person
Six persons are available for selection as subject of the verb “
je = I ¬rst person singular
tu = you  second person singular
il = he/it 
elle = she third person singular

on = one
nous = we ¬rst person plural
vous = you second person plural (also used to indicate a single person in a polite
ils = they
third person plural
elles = they
The pronouns are discussed in more detail in 206“236.


6 Mood
Although there is controversy amongst grammar books as to what to include under the
heading ˜mood™, it is generally agreed that mood indicates the degree of certainty with
which something is said, and that there are at least three moods in French “
the indicative, which is the mood used in normal circumstances
the imperative, used to express a command


the subjunctive, often dependent upon particular syntactic circumstances and
normally used to express something which is lacking in certainty.
The imperative mood is discussed in 115“123, 212.
As far as the other two moods are concerned, the choice as to which to use in a given
circumstance is usually quite straightforward. However, as will be seen in 156“158, there
are occasions where the choice is not so easy to make.
What is certain is that in the vast majority of cases, it is the indicative mood that is
used; the indicative can be called the ˜default™ mood.
However, at times syntactic circumstances dictate that the subjunctive mood be used.
The simplest way of determining which mood to use is to list those circumstances in
which the subjunctive mood is required, since they are much fewer in number than those
requiring the indicative, and to assume that in all other circumstances the indicative is
to be used.
These circumstances are listed in 144“158.
The situation in French is different from that in English, since in English the subjunctive
is so rare as to be virtually non-existent in ordinary speech and writing; when used, it
tends to sound somewhat pompous, eg
The judge insisted that the accused leave the courtroom.
The tenses associated with each mood are listed in 15“102.


7 Tense
It is the role of the tense of the verb to tell us the time when an event takes place in
relation to the present moment. Some events take place in the past, others in the present;
others are projected into the future.
The various uses of verb tenses are discussed in 125“147.

8 Tenses
To create some tenses the form of the verb itself is adjusted.
Using the verb donner = to give as a template, the following tenses fall under this
heading “

the present tense “ je donne = I give
the imperfect “ je donnais = I was giving
the past historic “ je donnai = I gave
the future “ je donnerai = I will give
the conditional “ je donnerais = I would give

To create other tenses, what is called an auxiliary verb “ avoir = to have or etre = to
be “ is added to the past participle “

the perfect “ j™ai donn´ = I have given
the pluperfect “ j™avais donn´ = I had given

12 Subgroups

the future perfect “ j™aurai donn´ = I will have given
the conditional perfect “ j™aurais donn´ = I would have given
All this will be explained in full detail below.

9 Presentation of tenses
A word of warning “ although many French verbs are regular in their conjugations,
we still have to learn them. Others are renowned for their irregularities, and we have
to make even more of an effort to memorise them. Life is made somewhat easier if we
remember that the verbs often belong to groups and subgroups; that is to say, verbs that
are conjugated in similar ways may be grouped together for convenience of learning. So,
if we can remember which verbs are in which groups and subgroups, there is slightly less
learning to do!
A list of other verbs belonging to the various subgroups discussed here is provided in
Chapter 4.

10 In¬nitives and conjugations
Verbs are organised into four major groups or conjugations according to the ending
of the in¬nitive. All verbs belong to one of these, and it is of vital importance that we are
able to recognise which group or conjugation the verb concerned belongs to, and how
to form correctly the various parts of its paradigm “ the collection of forms which a
particular verb can adopt in any circumstances.

11 In¬nitive endings for the four groups
Group 1 verbs end in “er “
eg aller = to go, danser = to dance, penser = to think, sembler = to seem
Group 2 verbs end in “ir “
eg courir = to run, ¬nir = to ¬nish, jouir = to enjoy, partir = to leave
Group 3 verbs end in “re “
eg faire = to do, mettre = to put, plaire = to please, vendre = to sell
Group 4 verbs end in “oir “
eg devoir = to have to, pouvoir = to be able to, recevoir = to receive, voir = to see

12 Subgroups
For each group of verbs, there are subgroups (in other grammar books often called
˜exceptions™ or ˜irregular verbs™). These will be recorded after the standard conjugations
have been presented.
It should be noted that, as a general rule, in these subgroups, as far as the present tense
is concerned, the ¬rst two persons of the plural tend to maintain the stem of the in¬nitive,
whereas the three persons of the singular and the third person plural have distinctive but
related forms. Taking pouvoir as an example “
nous pouvons, vous pouvez but je peux, tu peux, il / elle peut, ils / elles


13 Group 1 “er verbs, Group 2 “ir verbs, Group 3 “re verbs,
Group 4 “oir verbs
Group 1 “er verbs
This is the most numerous conjugation, and all newly created verbs belong to this group.
Most of the verbs belonging to this group form their tenses regularly. A few show minor
irregularities and may be gathered together into subgroups. One verb “ aller = to go “
shows major departures from the norm.

Group 2 “ir verbs
The verbs belonging to this group may be divided into a number of subgroups. A major
distinction is to be made between those verbs which add “iss“ between the stem and
the ending in certain tenses and persons “ subgroup 1 “ and those which do not “
subgroup 2 “

subgroup 1
¬nir = to ¬nish “ nous ¬nissons
jouir = to enjoy “ je jouissais
subgroup 2 “
courir = to run “ je courais
partir = to leave “ nous partons

Group 3 “re verbs and Group 4 “oir verbs
The verbs in these groups often form small subgroups, but there are also a number of
verbs which are complete one-offs, especially in Group 4.

14 The formation of tenses “ simple and compound tenses
Normally, certain endings need to be added to the stem of the verb. Very occasionally
the ending is subsumed into the stem, eg
il part “ third person singular of partir
The stem is the element preceding the “er/“ir/“re ending of the in¬nitive of Groups
1 to 3 “
eg port “ from porter, ¬n “ from ¬nir, vend “ from vendre
Identifying the stem is more of a problem with Group 4 verbs.

Simple and compound tenses
Tenses are of two types “ simple and compound.
Simple tenses “ here it is the form of the verb itself that varies “
eg for donner present tense je donne, imperfect tense je donnais, future tense je
Compound tenses “ here an auxiliary verb, either avoir or etre, is combined with
the past participle of the verb “
eg perfect tense j™ai donn´ , pluperfect tense j™´ tais venu
e e

18 “er verbs Subgroup 1

The tenses will be treated in the following order “
Simple tenses: present, imperfect, future, conditional;
Compound tenses: perfect, pluperfect, future perfect, conditional perfect. The past
historic (simple) and past anterior (compound) are treated last as they are relatively
It should be pointed out that, on a number of occasions, it is the spelling rather than
the pronunciation that is affected. Precision and accuracy of spelling are very important
in written French; spoken French does not need to reveal how certain forms are spelt! “ so
more latitude is permissible there. However, this grammar book is designed to promote
orthographical accuracy.


Present tense

15 Group 1 “er Verbs
16 Present tense of Group 1 “er verbs
The endings for the typical Group 1 “er verb porter = to carry are added to the stem
singular plural
port“e port“ons
¬rst person
second person port“es port“ez
port“e port“ent
third person

17 Subgroups
There are a few verbs that show slight changes in their stems in the three persons of the
singular and the third person plural.
This also applies to the future and conditional tenses of those verbs in all persons,
singular and plural.
Aller is an “er verb that shows major deviations from the norm.
For further details see the appropriate sections below.

18 “er verbs Subgroup 1
Verbs ending in “eler and “eter: there are two possibilities “
1 some verbs double the ¬nal consonant of the stem in the persons mentioned
2 others change the unstressed e of the stem to e.
Examples of Subgroup 1
1 doubling the ¬nal consonant of the stem in singular and third person plural “
appeler = to call
j™appelle, tu appelles, il/elle/on appelle, ils/elles appellent


but nous appelons, vous appelez
jeter = to throw
je jette, tu jettes, il/elle/on jette, ils/elles jettent
but nous jetons, vous jetez
2 changing “e“ of stem to “` “
acheter = to buy
j™ach` te, tu ach` tes, il/elle/on ach` te, ils/elles ach` tent
e e e e
but nous achetons, vous achetez

19 “er verbs Subgroup 2
Verbs, with “e“ (apart from those in Subgroup 1) or “´ “ as the ¬nal vowel of the
stem “
the “e“ or “´ “ is changed to “` “ in the persons mentioned above.
e e
Examples of Subgroup 2
mener = to lead
je m` ne, tu m` nes, il/elle/on m` ne, ils/elles m` nent
e e e e
but nous menons, vous menez
esp´ rer = to hope
j™esp` re, tu esp` res, il/elle/on esp` re, ils/elles esp` rent
e e e e
but nous esp´ rons, vous esp´ rez
e e

20 “er verbs Subgroup 3
Verbs with “c“, “g“ occurring immediately before the ending “ the /s/, / / sounds are
retained by changing “c“ to “c“ or adding an “e“ after the “g“ respectively in the ¬rst
person plural of the present tense (and also in other tenses before a (in imperfect and
past historic) or u (in past historic) with certain subgroups); “c“ (= s-sound rather than
a k-sound) is used in the spelling of these words to re¬‚ect the fact that the pronunciation
of the “c“ remains the same.
For further details see 44, 76.
Examples of Subgroup 3
commencer = to begin
je commence but nous commencons (also je commencai, commencais)
¸ ¸ ¸
manger = to eat
je mange but nous mangeons (also je mangeai, mangeais)

21 “er verbs Subgroup 4
Aller = to go constitutes a major departure from the norms of the “er conjugation, not
only in the present tense but also in the future and conditional. The same forms are
affected as for subgroups 1 and 2.

25 “ir verbs Subgroup 2

je vais, tu vas, il/elle/on va, ils/elles vont
but nous allons, vous allez
s™en aller = to go away is conjugated in the same way.

22 Group 2 “ir Verbs
23 Present tense of Group 2 “ir verbs
We need to draw a distinction between those “ir verbs that insert “iss“ between stem
and ending with certain persons “ Subgroup 1, by far the most numerous subgroup “
and those that do not “ the other subgroups.

24 “ir verbs Subgroup 1
The endings for the typical “ir verb ¬nir = to ¬nish are added to the stem ¬n“ for the
three persons singular, and to the stem plus “iss“ for the three persons plural “
singular plural
¬n“is ¬n“issons
¬rst person
second person ¬n“is ¬n“issez
¬n“it ¬n“issent
third person

25 “ir verbs Subgroup 2
The endings for a typical “ir verb, without “iss“ in the plural, are added to the stem.
The treatment of the ¬nal consonant of the stem should be noted “
1 when the stem ends in “r“, the “r“ is retained throughout the paradigm
2 when the stem ends in “t“, the “t“ does not appear in the written form of the ¬rst
two persons singular
3 when the stem ends in another consonant, the consonant does not appear in the
singular but reappears in the plural.
Examples of Subgroup 2
1 courir = to run

singular plural
cour“s cour“ons
¬rst person
second person cour“s cour“ez
cour“t cour“ent
third person
2 partir = to leave
je pars, tu pars, il/elle/on part
nous partons, vous partez, ils/elles partent
3 dormir = to sleep
je dors, tu dors, il/elle/on dort
nous dormons, vous dormez, ils/elles dorment


26 “ir verbs Subgroup 3
Certain verbs whose in¬nitive ends in “ir are in fact conjugated like Group 1 “er
Example of Subgroup 3
cueillir = to gather
je cueille, tu cueilles, il/elle/on cueille, nous cueillons, vous cueillez,
ils/elles cueillent

27 “ir verbs Subgroup 4
Tenir = to hold and venir = to come and their derivatives form a subgroup with an
irregular present tense.
The two persons of the plural are formed like Subgroup 2 “ir verbs, but it is the other
persons that give this subgroup its particularity.
Example of Subgroup 4
je viens, tu viens, il/elle/on vient, ils/elles viennent
but nous venons, vous venez

28 “ir verb mourir = to die
Mourir is the most irregular of the “ir verbs.
je meurs, tu meurs, il/elle/on meurt, nous mourons, vous mourez,
ils/elles meurent

29 Group 3 “re Verbs
30 Present tense of Group 3 “re verbs
Group 3 “re verbs involve a number of subgroups, some of which differ only slightly
from each other, others of which are much more radical in their deviations.
The endings for the present tense of most “re verbs follow a regular pattern for most
persons except the third person singular, where either the stem only occurs or a ¬nal -t
is added.
singular plural
¬rst person “s “ons
second person “s “ez
third person stem only or “t “ent

31 “re verbs Subgroup 1
Subgroup 1 involves the use of the stem only in the third person singular. This subgroup
includes verbs ending in “andre, “endre (except prendre = to take and derivatives),
“erdre, “ondre, “ordre.

33 “re verbs Subgroup 3

Examples of Subgroup 1
vendre = to sell
je vends, tu vends, il/elle/on vend, nous vendons, vous vendez, ils/elles
perdre = to lose
je perds, tu perds, il/elle/on perd, nous perdons, vous perdez, ils/elles
r´ pondre = to reply
je r´ ponds, tu r´ ponds, il/elle/on r´ pond, nous r´ pondons, vous r´ pondez,
e e e e e
ils/elles r´ pondent

32 “re verbs Subgroup 2
The only difference between this subgroup and Subgroup 1 is that “t is added to the
stem of the verb for the third person singular.
This subgroup includes verbs ending in “ompre, and conclure = to conclude, rire =
to laugh and derivatives.

Examples of Subgroup 2
rompre = to break
je romps, tu romps, il/elle/on rompt, nous rompons, vous rompez,
ils/elles rompent
je ris, tu ris, il/elle/on rit, nous rions, vous riez, ils/elles rient
je conclus, tu conclus, il/elle/on conclut, nous concluons, vous concluez,
ils/elles concluent

33 “re verbs Subgroup 3
Battre = to beat, mettre = to put and derivatives subgroup: this subgroup is distinctive
in that a single “t“ (instead of the double “tt“ that might be supposed) occurs in the

Examples of Subgroup 3

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